Even for a man known for his arrogance, Barack Obama's treatment of the Senate in connection with the New START Treaty is astounding. His demand that Senators approve this defective accord during the few days remaining in the lame-duck session amounts to contempt of Congress. It must not be tolerated, let alone rewarded.
To be sure, Mr. Obama is not the first chief executive to hold the legislative branch in low esteem. Still, his highhandedness when it comes to the constitutional responsibility of the Senate to play a real role in treaty-making seems particularly contemptuous, and contemptible.
The Obama administration's insistence that Senators accede to his efforts to relegate them to rubber-stamps is without precedent. As a bipartisan group of fifteen former senatorsrecently observed, never before in the history of the U.S. Senate has the deliberation and vote on an arms control agreement been truncated by their being conducted during a lame-duck session.
The effort to ram the treaty through before Christmas is no more justified than it is precedented. The claim being made by the administration and its surrogates that uncertainty about Russian activities necessitates such haste is laughable. President Obama himself is responsible for allowing previous verification arrangements to lapse. He did so over a year ago and seemed untroubled until now about there being no monitoring systems in place. And the insights this accord's limited inspection and monitoring arrangements will afford are hardly up to the job of detecting the Kremlin's inveterate cheating and other strategically ominous developments.
It turns out the real need for verification lies elsewhere - namely, in establishing what Team Obama has given away with respect to missile defense in course of negotiating New START, and in the months since that treaty was signed. Last week, the Washington Times' ace national security reporter, Bill Gertz, revealed that the administration had been caught lying to Senators concerned about yet another agreement now being developed with the Russians. Apparently, it would go beyond the undesirable limitations on U.S. anti-missile systems - both direct and indirect - that were incorporated into the present accord. (In a marvelous essay at National Review Online, former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthydemonstrates both the reality and undesirability of those limitations.)
The Obama administration has tried to allay concerns about any new negotiations by saying that they are simply building on talks the Bush administration had previously held with Moscow on missile defense cooperation. As former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Keith Payne, who headed up the U.S. delegation to those talks, pointed out to a Capitol Hill audience last week, his explicit instructions were not to discuss (let alone agree to) limits of any kind on our anti-missile capabilities. It is hard to imagine a more different agenda than that of Mr. Obama - whose ideologically driven antipathy to such defenses seems about as deep-seated as his disdain for those in Congress who have sought to protect Americans against ballistic missile attack.
Such Senators have an obligation to understand what the administration has actually agreed to with respect to missile defense. Yet, as was made plain by the false official assurances Mr. Gertz uncovered, legislators cannot possibly do so unless they have access to the New START negotiating record - which chronicles the evolution of the treaty over the many months of parleys between the two sides.
This document would also reveal how the U.S. position on issue after issue unraveled in the face of Russian opposition and Mr. Obama's determination to get a deal, no matter how bad its terms. It would, in short, be an embarrassment as well as an impediment to ratification of the New START Treaty.
As a result, every request by Senators for the negotiating record has been spurned in what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently characterized as a "no-hit" game. Presumably, she is referring to the success her department and the rest of the administration have had in suppressing opposition witnesses, inconvenient questions and unhelpful information.
The question is: Will the Senate allow such contempt to be tolerated? If so, one thing is sure. There will be more where that comes from.
Senators are on notice that New START establishes a Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) that can, and surely will, make deals that affect the treaty's terms in material ways - and do so without the Senate's advice or consent. U.S. and Russian negotiators working on restricting our missile defenses and still further reductions in our nuclear deterrent forces will be emboldened, confident that their handiwork will not be subjected to serious quality-control.
And the administration will portray the Senate as on board with its agenda of denuclearizing the world, starting with the United States. It is absolutely predictable that any deal made to secure approval of New START that is at odds with that agenda (notably, Sen. Jon Kyl's laudable efforts to secure funding for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex) will soon be over the side.
In short, if the Senate ignores the President's contempt for it as a constitutionally mandated partner in treaty making, if it ignores the lack of precedent for lame-duck consideration of an arms control treaty, if it ignores the need to do due-diligence, if it ignores the request of eleven of those newly elected to serve in the Senate of the 112th Congress to hold off on New START until they are sworn in, Senators will not only get more contempt. They will have earned it.